Baltimore City Community College at the Crossroads

March 2002 / Abell Reports / Education

How remedial education and other impediments to graduation are affecting the mission of the college.

Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) is now in its sixth decade serving the people of Baltimore and Maryland. Located on two campuses in northwest Baltimore and at the Inner Harbor, plus five off-campus sites, the college had a Fall 2001 enrollment of 6,300 credit students and more than 12,000 non-credit students. The college has been the launching pad for thousands of students moving either directly into the working world or on to a four-year college. Topping its list of successes is BCCC’s nursing program, graduates of which achieve an almost perfect passing rate on professional exams every year – rates often exceeding those of other community colleges in Maryland and across the country. Among all BCCC career graduates, 97 percent are currently employed or continuing their education. Because 87 percent of them choose to work in Baltimore, the City is clearly the beneficiary of the community college’s efforts.

The number of graduates at BCCC, however, is far too low to fulfill its mission of providing Baltimore with a “world-class workforce.” There are clear signs that BCCC has reached a crossroads in its diminishing ability to provide adequate access to a college education. Until the Fall 2001 semester, for-credit enrollments had been decreasing in recent years; graduation rates have fallen significantly. Of 1,350 first-time students who entered BCCC in the fall of 1997, only 12 had graduated four years later.

At the same time, an increasing number of incoming BCCC students are not ready for college academics as defined by Maryland’s higher education officials. Although placement and academic decisions made by campus and state officials have exacerbated this situation, the fact is that a stunning 95 percent of BCCC’s first-time students will require remedial education before undertaking a full college-level curriculum. Indeed, the college’s most heavily subscribed academic offerings in English and mathematics are, by far, remedial courses in English, reading and mathematics. Not surprisingly, students who begin their college careers with large remedial needs tend to graduate at even lower rates than the rest of BCCC’s student body.

These phenomena are not unique to BCCC. Remediation is an issue for every Maryland, and indeed national, community college. Yet BCCC serves the state’s neediest students: the largest share of its entering student body comes from the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS). Nearly a third of the first-time students enrolling each fall proceed directly from BCPSS high school graduation. Data show consistently that BCPSS graduates are not prepared for college-level work. BCPSS officials must accept a large share of responsibility for BCCC’s remedial education problem and work collegially to address it.